Advertisements

Our Monday Answer to Thursday’s News

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” will be a year old on Thursday, and we can already guess how almost everybody will mark the anniversary.
President Donald Trump’s die-hard defenders on talk radio and other right-wing media will loudly argue that if a year of dogged digging hasn’t produced a iron-clad case that the Trump campaign aided the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in the past presidential and the Trump administration then attempted to obstruct the various investigations into the matter, they might as well concede defeat and close up shop.
These are the same pundits who cheered on the special prosecutors’ investigations into President Bill Clinton as they veered from the Whitewater land deal to an affair with a White House intern and stretched out over four years and wound up with a semen-stained blue dress. They also spent three years defending congressional investigations of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the deadly fiasco at Benghazi, Libya, and it’s a sure bet that if Clinton had won the last presidential election they’d be eager to let the inevitable investigations into her e-mail practices and family foundation and various other matters take as long they required. Indeed, those same pundits are still chanting “lock her up” and don’t seem to care how long that might take.
There’s likely to be the same hypocrisy on the left, of course, as many of the same pundits and politicians who once decried the ever-widening scope and plodding pace of the many Clinton investigations will surely be insisting on Thursday that the Mueller investigation be granted wide latitude about hush money payments to porno performers and president’s personal lawyer’s receipt of big bucks from a Russian-linked firm and other matters as well as plenty of time to get the bottom of it all. Such is the nature of punditry and politics these days.
We didn’t care much for either of the Clintons, and were willing to be patient with whatever legal scrutiny they were subjected to, but neither do we care much for Trump, so without fear of accusations of hypocrisy we’re willing to grant Mueller wide latitude and as much time as he needs.
In this case, the wheels of justice seem to be grinding far faster than these political investigations usually proceed. Mueller’s investigation has already yielded 19 indictments of people and three companies associated with the Trump campaign and administration, including some high-profile guilty pleas including a campaign and administration national security advisor and jail time for some foreign lawyer you’ve never heard of, and several of the countless witnesses they’ve interviewed describe a team that already seems to know all the answers. The only people they haven’t yet interviewed are the ones a shrewd prosecutor such as Mueller would surely save for last, and someone who’s not on Mueller’s leak-proof ship has leaked an outline of 49 very hard-to-answer questions they intend to ask Trump himself in an interview they’re already negotiating with his ever-changing team of lawyers.
Which is not bad for a “witch hunt,” as Trump and his die-hard defenders continually describe Mueller’s investigation. Even without subpoena power the “fake news” media have forced the president’s namesake son to release an e-mail chain documenting his and his brother-in-law and the campaign manager’s meeting with a Russian-linked lawyer they understood to be acting on the Russian government’s behalf, the porno performer’s surprisingly shrewd lawyer has forced that Russian-linked company to admit that they did indeed make a huge payment to Trump’s surprisingly inept and defenestrated and under-investigation lawyer, and there are those high-profile indictments and guilty pleas, and by now enough of the “fake news” has been verified that only a hypocrite wouldn’t allow another few months to get the bottom of it.
In a few months a third of the Senate and all of the House of Representatives will be up for reelection, and we can already guess what a mess of hypocritical punditry and politics that will be. If the Mueller investigation comes up with an iron-clad case of conspiracy and obstruction by then the right will claim vindication for its conspiracy that it’s all a “deep state” plot to overthrow the president, and if it doesn’t the left will surely be plenty angry about it.
Although there’s no telling what time it will take, we expect that as always the truth will come out. At this point in time, we expect the truth will be embarrassing to Trump.
At the end of the long investigations of Bill he had to admit to an “improper relationship” with that White House intern, and although he escaped conviction in an impeachment trial he temporarily lost his law license and so tarnished his awful wife with her own thoroughly investigated scandals that wound up losing to the likes of Trump, but the same left that now has a zero-tolerance policy about sexual impropriety decided that it really didn’t care if the President of the United States was doing tawdry cigar tricks with a 25-year-old intern. If the end of the Trump investigations prove just as clearly that he conspired with a hostile foreign power to meddle in an American election we expect his ardent defenders and erstwhile cold warriors and champions of law and order to proclaim that’s no big deal.
Such is the state of American punditry and politics these days. We came of age during the two long years of the Watergate scandal before Nixon resigned, and have lived through similar outrages from both the left and right, so we’re resigned to a longer wait for the conclusion of this.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Trump’s Imperfect Storm

That whole “Russia thing” has lately merged with those porn star and Playboy playmate scandals, and it all seems to be closing in on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and sex-scandal “fixer” Michael Cohen recently had his office and home and hotel raided by the Justice Department, and is widely expected to be indicted soon, and Trump’s most longtime lawyer is advising him that Cohen is almost certain to start providing state’s evidence in whatever matters might arise from all the seized files and recordings and other potential evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired has a best-selling book full of newsworthy allegations, with Trump offering explanations for the firing that contradict his past statements, and efforts by Trump loyalists to discredit James Comey have resulted in the leaking of some formerly classified memos he wrote after his conversations with the president that contain even more newsworthy allegations. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” that resulted from Comey’s firing, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas and has prominent Trump campaign and administration officials fully cooperating, plods irresistibly along.
Trump has now added former star federal prosecutor and legendary New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to a legal team that’s been depleted by defections and impending indictments, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that would prevent Trump from firing the Justice Department officials he needs to replace in order to fire the special counsel and perhaps end the investigation into the “Russia thing” altogether. According to all the opinion polls he also has the support of about four-fifths of the Republican party, as well as the fierce apologetics of prominent voices on the talk radio airwaves and other right-wing media, but he nonetheless looks outgunned on all fronts.
Giuliani was a formidable lawyer who locked up a lot of New York City mobsters back in the ’80s, and his three terms as Mayor of New York in the ’90s saw crime and tax rtes decline dramatically while employment and and tax revenues and general quality of life soared, and his response to the Sept. 11, terror attack on the World Trade Center made him a national hero and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, but since then he’s been on a long losing streak. A sex scandal ended his second marriage and commenced his third, and once upon a time in the Republican party that sort of thing combined with the Republican party’s former suspicion of smartypants New Yorkers doomed his presidential campaign in the good old days of 2008. He cashed in with some lucrative lawyering and lobbying and consulting, but he largely faded from the news until he remerged as an advocate for his fellow New Yorker and serial philanderer and far less qualified friend Trump, who by then was palatable to a plurality of the Republican party.
Giuliani told the press that he expects to negotiate a quick end to the various criminal and counter-terrorism investigations regarding the “Russia thing,” which suggests to us that his legal skills have rusted over the past few years, and that his losing streak is likely to continue.
McConnell says he’s not going allow legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired because he doesn’t believe Trump would ever be stupid enough to fire him, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. A credibly accused child molester that Trump campaigned for lost a seemingly safe Senate seat in Alabama, Arizona Senator and erstwhile Republican hero John McCain is busy battling brain cancer, so the Republican majority in the Senate is down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and McConnell is reviled as the epitome of the “Republican establishment” by the party’s pro-Trump “burn it down” wing and quickly losing control of his fractious and increasingly Trump-averse caucus. You can call the Cable News Network “fake news” all you want, but unless you think they can produce computer generated images more convincingly than Industrial Light and Magic they taped a full dozen big-name congressional Republicans who wouldn’t say on the record that they’re on board with Trump’s reelection.
Even if McConnell does somehow allow the president to fire the people he needs to fire the special counsel and put an end to the whole “Russia thing,” McConnell is quite right that it would be a damned dumb thing to do.
That fired FBI director’s best-selling book and widely publicized book tour is getting mixed reviews, as his seeming mishandling of the undeniably difficult problem of presiding over investigations of serious allegations of criminal activity by both major party candidates during a presidential election has made him a hated figure on both ends of the spectrum, and that storm should soon pass. Those memos Comey wrote in the lead-up to his firing are likely be more troublesome when these matters enter a court of law, though, and for all his undeniable and admitted flaws we’ll find Comey a more credible witness when it inevitably comes down to that.
At this point we can’t imagine what might shake that four-fifth of the Republican party’s faith in Trump, but we notice that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts are fulminating about Trump’s betrayals of his non-interventionist promises with his missile strikes in Syria and a possible betrayals on building a border wall and deporting all the “dreamers” and waging trade wars around the globe. By now all but the most protectionist and isolationist Democrats still hate Trump as much as ever, a fifth of the Republican party and at least a dozen prominent congressional Republicans are outspokenly unenthused about him, and our view from the sidelines sees Trump taking a licking on all fronts.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Against the Tide

President Donald Trump’s “tweets” are clearly intended to convey cocksureness and toughness, and that’s how the die-hard fans see them. To our eyes they always look differently, and this past weekend’s voluminous output struck us as downright anxious and weak.
The most frequent of the topics Trump “tweeted” about was the Russia thing, of course. He gloated about the firing of a career Federal Bureau of Investigation official just 48 hours away from becoming eligible for a full pension, further impugned the character of the former FBI director he previously fired, and accused the bureau itself of widespread corruption in the process. Trump repeatedly “tweeted” about the special counsel’s investigation being a witch hunt — or “WITCH HUNT!” as he prefers to call it — and for the first time mentioned the name of Robert Mueller, the formidable former FBI director in charge.
The die-hard Trump fans will be pleased that “at least he fights,” as they always say, but we doubt that Mueller, a much-decorated combat veteran who once left a cushy California law practice to take on the crack cocaine dealers of Washington, D.C., is much intimidated by “tweets.” Mueller’s hunt has already yielded numerous indictments against 13 Russians and several figures close to Trump’s campaign and transition team and administration, along with a couple of guilty pleas, including one from Trump’s former national security advisor, and by now many Americans are waking up hopeful that more indictments and guilty will show up in the news.
Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the financial records of the Trump Organization, the oxymoronic name of the president’s still wholly-owned international business empire, and God and Mueller only know what that’s likely to turn up. Our guess, based on what we’ve learned about Trump over the past several decades, is that it’s likely — oh, what the heck, standards of discourse being what they are these days, damned near certain — that there’s something pretty damned damning in those ledgers.
There are still laws on the books and an independent judiciary to enforce them, a Congress that plays some role, as well as a free press to let the public know how that turns out, and for now all of that is on Mueller’s side, so all a president can do is “tweet” about it. At least he fights, we’ll concede, but he so often leads with his chin.
There’s a convincing case to be made that the recently fired FBI official had it coming, as an independent inspector general appointed by President Barack Obama had concluded he’d been less than forthcoming on his dealings with the media during the bureau’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump would have done well to let the “fake news” glumly report that exculpatory fact. Instead he issued that gloating “tweet” and extrapolated that it shows widespread corruption in the FBI and a rigged system that’s out to get him and that “Crooked Hillary!” is the one who should be locked up, not him. Which only fuels the “fake news” narrative that the firing was a brazenly vindictive political ploy to discredit a career civil servant and potential witness in the “Russia thing,” and intimidate any other possible witnesses, and unless you’re a die-hard fan it makes Trump look petty and mean rather than cocksure and tough.
We don’t expect any other potential witnesses will be much intimated. A couple of congressman have already offered the fired FBI official another 48 hours of gainful government employment so that he can qualify for his full pension, and he’s bound to find other opportunities. James Comey, that fired FBI director that Trump routinely impugns “tweeted” back that “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.” This is an apparent reference to a book by Comey to be released in mid-April, which is already an Amazon best-seller and moving up the charts since Trump’s “tweets,” and we expect he’ll make a convincing case for himself. Say what you want about that botched investigation of “Crooked Hillary’s” e-mails, which was as badly run as Trump Airline or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, Trump is at a disadvantage in a contest of character.
The “fake news” have plenty of actual facts to rebut the rest of the president’s conspiracy theorizing, too. He “tweeted” that the House investigative committee on the “Russia thing” had exonerated him, but that was just most of the for-now Republican majority, with the Democrats objecting, and the Senate and special counsel and free press investigations are still underway. Trump once again “tweeted” about the undeniable fact that most of Mueller’s team are Democrats and have donated to Clinton’s past campaigns, but federal law prohibits hiring based on party affiliation or past campaign donations, everyone on the team has stellar credentials regarding such worrisome matters as money-laundering and several are fluent in Russian, and Trump’s own lawyer and Trump himself have contributed “Crooked Hillary’s” past campaigns.
Trump could impulsively “tweet” that he’s decided to fire Mueller, which you know he really really wants to do, but by law he’d have to get the deputy attorney general to do it, as the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the whole “Russia thing,” and he’d probably have to fire the Republican guy he appointed to be deputy general and find somebody willing to go down in infamy to do the deed. Anyone old enough to remember the “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal knows how messy that can be, however, and although it’s frighteningly plausible we don’t see it ending any better this time around.

— Bud Norman

In the Calm, Peaceful Eye of the Hurricane

According to The Washington Post, an anonymous White House official said that after the horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day “A lot of people here felt it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.” It’s a morbid thought, but there might be something to it.
Prior to the tragedy all the talk was about the departure of the staff secretary who’d been kept on the job even after the administration was made aware that he couldn’t get the security clearance needed for the job because two ex-wives were accusing him of physical abuse. That led to stories about the under-oath testimony by the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that the White House had lied about when the White House had been made aware, embarrassing questions about why so many White House officials can’t get a security clearance, another story about another accused wife-beater leaving his speechwriting job, and after days of praising his staff secretary the president being hectored by the press to at long last say that he doesn’t approve of wife-beating.
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer also admitted he paid $130,000 to a pornographic film performer who had once alleged an affair with then-reality show star Trump but stopped doing so after the payment. Then there was the story that Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer paid big money for a former Playboy centerfold model for her own exclusive and unpublished story about an affair with Trump, which she alleges occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the porn performer, which was just months after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child. There were also stories, perhaps related, about all the visible evidence of a frosty relationship between the president and First Lady.
Once upon a time in America such titillating tales of porn performers and Playboy models and a president would have crowded even the wife-beating stories with national security implications out of the news, but by now we have a First Lady who’s done some pornographic modeling of her own and a reality show president that no one, even his most evangelical apologists, looks to for moral leadership. The leftward media that once defended President Bill Clinton’s presidential peccadillos don’t want to seem puritanical about it, so they’ve mostly focused their attention on the possible campaign law violations that are clearly implied, and it’s not the big deal it would have been back in the good old days.
After the tragedy in Florida the “Russia thing” nosed its way back into the news. Special counsel Robert Mueller obtained an indictment against 13 Russians for fraudulently running an internet propaganda campaign during the last presidential campaign that was clearly designed to benefit Trump, which came after all of the Trump appointees to all of the nation’s intelligence-gathering agencies testified under oath that they were certain the Russian government had indeed launched a sophisticated effort to influence the presidential election that included hacking into e-mail accounts and trying to hack into state vote-counting computers and spreading propaganda.
The announcement of the indictment was read by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee who is in the awkward position of overseeing Mueller’s investigation after the full-blown Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the “Russia thing,” and he stressed that only Russians were indicted and the indictment mentioned “unwitting” Americans who might have been involved. Trump and his apologists read this as vindication in the whole “Russia thing,” but that required Trump to acknowledge that Russia’s meddling wasn’t the hoax he’d long claimed.
This was followed 14 presidential “tweets” that would have dominated a day’s news cycle in the relatively recent past. Trump blamed the school shooting on the FBI’s obsession with the “Russia thing,” blasted his national security advisor for acknowledging Russia’s meddling in the last election without mention that Trump would have won anyway, and even described Oprah Winfrey as “insecure.”
It was all too much to follow over a long President’s Day Weekend, especially with all those remarkably eloquent and righteously impassioned kids telling all the cable news networks about the tragedy they lived through, and in an odd sort of way that does somehow seem to redound to Trump’s political benefit. Those poor souls in the White House communications team charged with spinning all the various scandals might well have felt able to take a federal holiday off on Monday.
They’ll have to be back on the job today, though, as it looks to be a brief respite. The alleged wives-beaters who gained entree to the White House are already long forgotten, but the hubbub about all the White House staffers without security clearance has prompted the chief of staff to impose a new rule that will likely demote senior advisor and ambassador-at-large and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. The possible campaign violations involved in those six-figure payouts to the porn performer and Playboy model might yet wind up in court, or under the special counsel’s scrutiny, and that will keep these otherwise boring stories in the news. Mueller’s indictment not only mentioned “unwitting” American participants in the Russian campaign meddling but also referred to “persons known and unknown to the grand jury,” which has an ominous ring about it.
That tragedy in Florida doesn’t seem to be redounding to the president’s political benefit, either. Those sympathetically grieving students are remarkably eloquent and appealing — we got choked up watching one respectful and well-groomed and well-spoken senior who has already signed up for Army service even though he looks and sounds like a college man — and so far they’re winning in the public opinion polls against Trump’s un-parseable and profane and Oprah-bashing “tweets.”
We hold out hope that some solution can be found to end the ongoing problem of mass shootings without infringing on the God-given and constitutionally-protected right for a citizen to protect himself, but we expect a lot of bad news before we arrive at that happy day.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Tough Stretch of News

Although he got in another lucrative weekend of golfing and socializing at his warm and sunny Mar-a-Lago resort, the last few days have not been kind to President Donald Trump. The team owned by his best friend in the National Football League was upset in the Super Bowl, the release of a much ballyhooed congressional memo did not completely vindicate him in the “Russia thing,” and suddenly the stock markets are in a swoon.
Trump will probably get over the Super Bowl soon enough, and maybe even score some political points against the winning players who have already announced they’ll skip a White House visit, but the ongoing “Russia thing” and the recent woes on Wall Street are more troublesome.
The president had hoped that a four page memo penned by the staff of die-hard Trump apologist and California Rep. Devin Nunes would persuade the American people to to demand an end to all the ongoing investigations into the “Russia thing,” and he got his wish with a certain portion of the public. All the right wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the die-hard Trump apologists relished the unsurprising revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had used the “salacious and unverified” dossier of evidence compiled by a foreigner with money from the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to obtain an early warrant in the investigation from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Sean Hannity even found that sufficient reason to demand that special counsel Robert Mueller’s snooping around cease and the indictments he’s already obtained again Trump’s campaign manager another high-ranking campaign official be dropped and the guilty pleas he’s already forced from Trump’s former national security adviser and a campaign foreign policy advisor be rescinded.
Alas, the rest of the public was more skeptical and Hannity’s demands are unlikely to be met. The more Trump-skeptical media noted the memo acknowledged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation started snooping around when an Australian official tipped them off that a drunken Trump campaign foreign policy advisor had been boasting in a London Pub about all the dirt his candidate was getting from the Russians, that still-classified material other than the information compiled by a respected former British intelligence agent was also submitted to the court, and that in any case the warrants were reauthorized by other FISA courts based on the finding they were yielding important evidence. The notion of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump to stage a “coup” with “fake news” was always a hard sell, given that it involves Republican-appointed FBI agents seeking warrants from the Republican-appointed judges on FISA courts that the Republicans established and just last week voted to renew, and the four pages that Nunes’ staffers penned didn’t make the case.
Nunes also admits that neither he nor his staffers actually read the classified case that the FBI made for its FISA warrants, and everyone who has is saying that the memo is misleading. That includes the FBI chief that Trump appointed, and the impeccably Republican South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who was a right wing talk radio hero just a couple of years ago for his dogged investigation of Clinton’s embarrassing role in the deadly Benghazi debacle. Gowdy was the only House Republican who got too look at the classified warrant application because Nunes had been forced to more or less recluse himself from the whole “Russia thing” after some embarrassing antics, and he told the media that “There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.” Listing off a number of reasons to snoop into the “Russia thing,” he accurately noted “To the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.”
Gowdy is one of several Republicans who aren’t seeking reelection, so be’s free to be so frank, but even some of his partisan colleagues who are hoping for another term are also distancing themselves from the Nunes memo. Several Republicans have signaled the support of a rebuttal memo penned by California Rep. Adam Schiff, who has seen the classified warrant application and seems a far smarter fellow than Nunes, and the “Russia thing” will surely linger.
Meanwhile the stock market has been plummeting, and for now that’s an even bigger problem for Trump.
By the sometimes perverse logic of the stock markets, the bad news is being driven by good news and might turn out in the long run to be good news. After an historically long run to record levels the markets are apparently worried the currently low unemployment rates and slight upticks in economy activity and long-forestalled wage increases will cause the Federal Reserve Board to slightly raise the rates on the historically inexpensively obtained money that has been fueling it, lest inflation rear its ugly head, and there’s a strong case to be made that a long-forestalled and much-needed market corrections is needed to forestall the inevitable next crash until after you’re dead. Trump will be hard-pressed, though, to make such a complicated argument.
Trump will quite plausibly claim that the recent stock market downturn is not his fault, but his critics will provably point out that he was always willing to take credit for the recent record highs. He “tweeted” about it 56 times, boasted about it in public pronouncements far more often, including that long-forgotten State of the Union speech he gave just a week or so ago, and for now he’s deprived of a favorite bragging point. He could turn on a dime and make the populist claim that he’ll gladly trade a workingman’s pay hike for some fat-cat investor’s coupon-clipping, and brag about how he prescient he was back in the campaign when he claimed the record stock market highs of President Barack Obama’s administration were just a great big bubble about to burst, but after all the boasts about those Wall Street records and given Trump’s limited vocabulary it’s a very complicated argument to make.
The sorts of people who do grasp such complicated economic arguments immediately recognize the Fed’s complicated role in all of this, and are probably aware that Trump has recently appointed its new chairman. The previous chairman was chairwoman Janet Yellen, who was generally well regarded by by all the smart people with the smart money for her open spigot policies in the early stages of recovery from the 2008 recession and gradual reductions during the slower-than-usual but longer-than-ever recovery that lasted through Trump’s first year.
It’s a longstanding presidential tradition to appoint a generally well-regarded Fed chairman to a second term regardless of the party that had made the first appointment, but Trump isn’t much for longstanding presidential traditions and to replace Yellen with his own guy. Of course Trump chose a guy, Jerome Powell, but he’s a former under secretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department and is widely expected to be the same sort of apolitical number-crunching policy wonk as Yellen, and along with all the stock holders we’ll be eager to see how he responds. Trump is probably wondering, too, as it will be hard to blame Yellen for a downturn that began shortly after she was replaced by Trump.
Our hope is that the stock markets and the broader economy both continue to fitfully prosper, and our expectation is that if it does Trump will take credit for it, and that if it doesn’t he’ll accept no blame. We wish Trump well with that whole “Russia thing,” too, but we hope that truth will prevail and expect that the special counsel will find plenty of it.

— Bud Norman

Looking Forward to a Tricky Situation

President Donald Trump said in an impromptu news conference Wednesday night that he was looking forward to testifying under oath to special counsel Robert Mueller about the “Russia thing,” which is a perfect example of why he should be dreading such an ordeal.
Trump added that his eagerness was “subject to my lawyers and all that,” but his lawyers would have advised him not to volunteer for the grilling that they’ve surely been doing their best to avoid. They probably couldn’t find any legal grounds to spare Trump from testifying, and the political consequences for not doing so would be unavoidable in any case, but the self-proclaimed master deal-maker has just robbed his attorneys of whatever leverage they might had to negotiate any limits on the questions that can be asked. There was even talk about limiting the special counsel to written questions, which would have allowed Trump’s lawyers to vet the written answers, but that faint hope has now vanished.
Letting Trump spontaneously answer Mueller’s questions is potentially disastrous, given his well-known penchant for blurting out the most blatant and easily disproved lies, such as he did several times in that impromptu news conference. He also has an unfortunate knack for blurting out damning truths, such as when he disregarded the White House staff’s carefully worded lies about firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey because he had been so unfair to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign and told the National Broadcasting Company’s Lester Holt that he fired the guy because of the “Russia thing.” Worse yet, Trump also a worrisome cocksureness that he doesn’t need anybody’s advice and can talk himself out of any situation.
Trump has indeed talked himself out of a lot of tricky situations over the years, and he somehow talked himself into the White House, but he’s also wound paying out of many millions of dollars settling race discrimination and divorce and fraud and a wide variety of other lawsuits. The current situation is the trickiest Trump has ever faced, with far greater potential consequences and a far more formidable foe.
All the right-wing talk radio hosts and the rests of Trump’s apologists would have you believe that Mueller and his team of lawyers and investigators are part of a “deep state” conspiracy out to destroy Trump with “fake news,” but even if you believe that you have to believe he is formidable indeed. He’s a life-long Republican and long-married Eagle Scout whose reputation for boring probity was impeccable until recently, after earning a master’s degree he volunteered to the Marines and wound up earning medals for valor a Purple Heart in Vietnam before earning his law degree, and his career in public service saw him rise through the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI through both Republican and Democrats, culminating in his appointment to FBI director by Republican President George W. Bush and being re-appointed to an unprecedented second term by Democratic President Barack Obama.
The Trump apologists would also have you believe that Mueller’s team of lawyers and investigators are also a bunch of Clinton-loving conspiracists out to get the president for purely partisan reasons, and indeed some of them had contributed to her campaigns, just as Trump’s lawyer and family and Trump himself have done in the past, but they rarely mention that all of the staff have excellent credentials and much success in prosecuting such matters as money-laundering and Russian gangsterism and campaign law violations. The questions Trump will be giving spontaneous answers to will be carefully considered, expertly asked, and backed up by all they’ve learned from subpoenaed documents and the testimony from campaign and administration officials who have already been indicted or pleaded guilty to charges brought by the special counsel.
They won’t be so easily dodged as those less carefully considered and expertly asked questions he’s always getting from those pesky and relatively uninformed reporters, either. The Trump apologists usually respond to the most vexing questions about Trump by changing the subject to something that either Clinton or Obama had done, or ignoring it as “fake news,” or alleging that “deep state” conspiracy, but Trump will have no choice but to offer a real answer when he’s under oath. Taunting nicknames and assurances that “there was no collusion, everybody says so, that I can tell you, believe me” won’t help, either, in response to questions about a specific meeting with a specific person at a specific time.
Based on all the “fake news” stories by relatively uninformed pesky reporters that the White House has had to eventually admit are all too true, we expect some of those very specific questions are going to require a very carefully considered answer. Carefully considered answers aren’t Trump’s style, however, as he prefers to blurt out damnable lies or damning truths.
Our guess is that all the “fake news” outlets and other Trump critics are going to find something damnable or damning in the all-too-real transcripts of the testimony that will eventually be made public, and that the talk radio talkers and the other Trump apologists will dismiss what’s damnable as no big deal and and deny what’s damning as a “deep state” conspiracy. The rest of the country, by our best guess, will be skeptical of everything trump says except for the damning parts.
Which is not to say that Trump won’t eventually talk himself out of this mess. He’s talked and paid himself out of plenty of tricky situations before, and there’s a certain segment of the population that wouldn’t care if he went out and shot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and a lot of the country doesn’t seem care about much anything political these days. No matter how damnable or damning Trump’s testimony under oath might be, we know a lot of people who will still be glad that at least Clinton isn’t the president.
Our old-fashioned Republican souls also shudder at the very thought of another Clinton presidency, but we still don’t think that a sometime Democrat and sometime Reform Party member and relatively recent Republican who is thrice-married and regales a Boy Scout jamboree with tales of orgies on yachts and dodged the draft and devoted his life to a ruthless pursuit of private gain and prides himself on flouting previous standards of probity is going to make America great again. We have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but we do know Trump is facing a more formidable foes than himself  in Mueller and the truth, and it’s a very tricky situation.

— Bud Norman

How to Fill a Fully-Funded Government News Cycle

Way back when last weekend’s latest partial government shutdown began, President Donald Trump said the Democrats had caused it just to change the discussion from that fabulous tax bill he had signed. By Monday morning the Democrats had admitted defeat and fully funded the government way up until Feb. 8, however, and by Tuesday morning the discussion had shifted to the “Russia thing” and other topics that Trump would rather not talk about.
All of the mainstream “fake news” media were reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” had conducted an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the Department of Justice officially confirmed was entirely true, and without all the file copy and stock footage about furloughed government workers and disgruntled national park visitors all the front pages and 24-hour news cycles had plenty of room for speculation about that.
If you haven’t been following the complicated and downright convoluted “Russia thing” subplot in Trump’s latest reality show, Sessions once felt obliged to recuse himself from any investigation of the whole affair after offering a Senate committee’s confirmation hearing inaccurate information about his own proved contacts with Russians, which so infuriated Trump that he both “tweeted” and gave taped press interviews to both press and television “fake news” media about how he wanted his Attorney General to be running interference on the whole “Russia thing,” like past attorneys general had done for presidents John Kennedy and Barack Obama during their more tawdry scandals. Of course all the “fake news” media and all the snarky ate night comedians had a gleeful time with that, and although it’s not yet known if he admitted anything harmful to the Trump administration during the interview it seems unlikely Sessions had anything very exculpatory to say on its behalf.
One of the many sidebar stories in the “fake news” about the “Russia thing” subplot was that the investigation had already secured guilty pleas from past Trump campaign and administration officials and won scary-sounding indictments against a former Trump campaign chairman and his longtime business associate, and was now reportedly negotiating some form testimony from the president himself. This administration didn’t clearly deny a word of it, and of course that led to much speculation. There was a lot of speculation about whether a sitting president could be compelled to give any written or oral testimony, several precedents from the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton presidencies cited, and further speculation about the political ramifications of testifying or not testifying. On one or another of the “fake news” cable channels we heard a panel of purported experts speculating that such an instinctively narcissistic and dishonest with such a cocksure certainty he talk himself out of anything as Trump will imperil himself testifying to the seasoned likes of this particular special counsel, and that sounded real enough to us.
Meanwhile the idiot son-in-law Trump picked to solve everything from Middle East peace to the opioid crisis is also the crosshairs of the the special counsel for his role in the “Russia thing,” and such diverse “fake news” outlets as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker are also reporting that Jared Kushner has his own “China thing” to go along with it. There’s also fresh news about the story The Wall Street journal broke about Trump’s tryst with a porn star and the six-figure hush-money she received, with all the “fake news” reporting on the very real court filing by some left-wing do-gooder group alleging it the pay-off amounted to a illegal campaign contribution, and of course all those snarky late comics were having great fun with that.
The more Trump-friendly voices in the media are trying to change the conversation to talk about the “deep state” conspiracy that’s trying to concoct all this “fake news,” but Russian “internet bots” are reportedly perpetuating the same talking points about some memo that a Republican congressman who had to recuse himself from his committee’s investigation has written about the “deep state” conspiracy, and at least we can be sure that Trump would rather everyone be talking about that fabulous tax bill.

— Bud Norman

When Silence Would Have Been Golden

President Donald Trump mostly spent his extended holiday vacation on the golf course or at fancy dinner parties, but he couldn’t keep from making some news. He had the usual number of insulting “tweets,” several insulting sound bites, and sat down for an impromptu interview with The New York Times that still worth noting after several days.
The interview is so full of eyebrow-raising quotes that one hardly knows where to begin, but we might has well start with the one that got the most attention from the media during a slow and little-watched news cycle. Asked an inevitable question about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the last presidential election, Trump surprised many by saying that “It doesn’t bother me, because I hope he’s going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair. There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair.”
Which is surprising because Trump has frequently characterized the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and “witch hunts” are by definition unfair, while his most loyal allies in Congress and the conservative media have lately maintained that the investigators are biased and out to get the president. Perhaps it was a holiday spirit that had Trump so hopeful about Mueller’s fairness, perhaps he was taking the high road with confidence his surrogates would take the low, and he perhaps he believes that Mueller might as susceptible to flattery as himself, but in any case it provided fodder for speculation.
When asked about the possibility of re-re-opening an investigation former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices Trump replied that “I have absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department, but for purposes of hopefully thinking I will be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved in this particular matter.” Which is worrisome on a number of levels.
Aside from the fact that a President of the United States speaks such un-parseable English, there’s something chillingly Nixonian about Trump’s insistence that he can use federal law enforcement to persecute his political enemies, and something more chilling yet about his apparent confession that isn’t do so only in hopes of currying favor with the special counsel. Just in case a reader might reach a more generous interpretation, Trump also had some strange praise for former Attorney General Eric Holder that made his rather authoritarian views of presidential power explicitly clear.
“I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that — I will say this: Eric Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had — not made up problems like Russia collusion, these were real problems — when you look at the things they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that. I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.”
Aside from mangled syntax and the failure to recall the name of the “Fast and Furious” scandals or come up with any other of the many Obama scandals, Trump is saying that his predecessor committed serious crimes and was allowed to do so by an Attorney General who put personal loyalty ahead of loyalty to the rule of law, and that he wishes his own Attorney General were just as unethical. All of Trump’s allies in Congress and the conservative media used to loathe Holder for doing what Trump respects, and when they get back to work today it will be interesting to see if they recant their past criticisms. We’re sure they’ll come up with something to say, and fully expect that their ongoing attacks on Mueller’s character will continued despite Trump’s hopefulness for fair treatment.
There was plenty of Trump’s widely-ridiculed braggadocio, too, as he claimed Chinese President Xi Jiping treated him “better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China,” that he understands tax law “better than the greatest CPA” and the details of health care policy “better than most.” He also claimed to have vaulted candidate Luther Strange from fifth place to second after endorsing in his Alabama’s Republican primary for a Senate race, even though there were only three major candidates in the race, and the numbers he claimed in Strange’s surge were simply made-up. As usual he could not get through an interview with about bragging about his electoral college victory, which as usual he claims is much harder for a Republican to win than the popular vote, even the Republicans are three-and-two  in the past five electoral votes but only one-for-five in the popular vote.
Trump also used a barnyard epithet to describe the Democrats’ opposition to the tax bill, while unnecessarily insulting potential Democratic ally Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state that Trump claims to have single-handedly restored to economic greatness.
The weirdest part, though, was Trump’s prediction that the mainstream media — those “very bad people” and purveyors of “Fake News” who have been Trump’s favorite target since he launched his campaign — are going to carry him to an easy reelection victory in 2020. “Because without me, their ratings are going down the tube. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times but the failed New York Times. So basically they have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please don’t lose Donald Trump.'”
Which is to say that the American public only reads or watches the news to hear about Trump, and will lose interest in public affairs all together if he’s not around, and that’s pretty arrogant even by Trumpian standards. He also expects that the news outlets that have seen their readerships and viewerships rise with the constant criticisms of Trump will commence six months of unrelenting praise so that they can go back to luring readers and viewers once he’s safely re-installed in office, which strikes us as worrisomely crazy even by Trumpian standards.
Trump is probably lucky the interview was published when people had better things to do than read or watch the news, but today the holidays are over and the government is back to work and people will once again be paying attention. Our advice is that he avoid impromptu interviews for a while.

— Bud Norman

Mulling the Matter of Mueller and Trump

President Donald Trump and his lawyers and all his unpaid supporters in congress and the Trump-friendly media seem quite cocky that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election will completely vindicate Trump of any wrongdoing, but just in case they also want you to know that Mueller fellow can’t be trusted.
There’s an obviously coordinated effort by Trump administration and family members and the more loyal congressional Republicans and Fox News and several prominent talk radio hosts afoot to discredit Mueller and his staff, and it’s lately intensified. Donald Trump Jr. recently warned the “USA Student Action Summit” of college-aged Republicans that “there are people at the highest levels of America who don’t want America to be America.” Some Republican congressmen are calling for a special counsel to investigate Mueller’s special counsel investigation, citing some leaked e-mails and other evidence they believe prove it’s all what Trump himself often calls a “witch hunt.” The Fox Network’s “Judge” Jeanine Pirro wants unnamed-but-Mueller-affiliated peopled hauled off “in cuffs,” and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have lately spent most of their combined nine hours of broadcasts on a local talk radio station casting further aspersions on Mueller and his fellow investigators.
They always note that several members of Mueller’s team have given generous campaign donations to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, which is undeniably true and worth noting, but they never note that so did Trump’s top lawyer Ty Cobb and favorite daughter Ivanka Trump and that idiot husband of her’s who’s somehow a top senior advisor to the White House in charge of solving everything from America’s opioid crisis to Middle East peace, and that Trump himself was once a generous funder of Clinton’s senatorial campaigns and the Clinton family foundation that his supporters now want to investigate. They relish in the suspiciously leaked e-mails between a couple of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who were having an adulterous sexual relationship and sharing sharply anti-Trump sentiments, but they rarely acknowledge they also shared anti-Clinton and anti-Bernie Sanders and anti-pretty-much-everyone-else sentiments, and that Mueller reassigned both of those bitter agents as soon as he got wind of their outspoken political opinions.
The Trump apologists have some outraged and undeniably true allegations about the past administration’s tapped phones calls of Trump campaign and administration officials, but they don’t mention that the phones being tapped belonged to Russian officials, which Republicans and other conservatives have always wanted tapped. They might have some plausible legal arguments that the Americans on other side of those conversations shouldn’t have been “unmasked,” in the legal jargon, but they’d just wind up making the argument that it’s a bigger scandal that attempts to track a political nominee’s possible collusion with a Russian plot to affect an American presidential election is more abhorrent than the plot itself.
We’ve been Republicans long enough that we still feel the pain of President Richard Nixon going down for his ultimately undeniable misdeeds, and we assess the current situation accordingly. Given how complicated this is, our instinct is to take measure of both Trump and Mueller by some blind test of the two Republicans.
One of the two is a life-long Republican. He was born into a fairly well-to-do family as the son of a high-ranking DuPont executive, and excelled as a student and athlete at the rigorous prep school he was able to attend, and his high marks earned hi admission to Princeton, where he graduated with honors and bachelor’s degree in political science while starring on the lacrosse team. After earning a master’s degree in international relations from New York University he volunteered for service in the Marine Corps and won numerous combats medals including the Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War.
After Vietnam subject A earned a law degree from the University of Virginia, and after three years of distinguished service to a prestigious law firm in San Francisco commend a distinguished career of public service as a U.S. attorney in northern California. In the Reagan year of 1982 he was moved over to the Massachusetts district, where he enhanced his reputation by uncovering all sorts of Democratic misbehavior there. After another brief but noteworthy stint in Boston’s private sector he was nominated by Republican President George W. Bush as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was unanimously confirmed the senate, and served another two years in the post at the request of Democratic President Barack Obama.
He’s also been a lifelong Republican all along, and been married to the same woman, and is not only an Eagle Scout but generously endows a college scholarship for other Eagle Scouts, and as lifelong Republicans and improbable Eagle Scouts we can’t help but like the guy.
Subject B was a Democrat and an independent and Reform Party candidate before becoming the winning nominee and putative leader of the Republican party. He’s the son of a multi-millionaire real estate mogul who was once arrested in a Ku Klux Klan riot, and he was such a proudly defiant punk his father sent off to a military school, where he did well enough in sports but was such a middling student that he wound up at Fordham University for two years. His rich dad made enough contributions to the low-level Ivy League University of Pennsylvania that he was admitted there, and would always lie that he graduated from it’s more prestigious master’-level Wharton School of Business. After that a doctor found some bone spurs that prevented him serving in the Vietnam War but didn’t seem interfere with his much bragged-about-golf game, and he went on to a much-bragged about fortune in real estate and reality television that he freely brags was facilitated by political bribes, and survived several bankruptcies and lawsuits about his penchant for not paying bills and currently has an undeniably odd relationship with his third wife and a penchant for gratuitous insults to fellow Republicans.
Even the blind know by now that Subject B is the President of the United States and the putative leader of our Republican party, but if it comes down to who you’re gonna believe we can’t help a certain affinity for Subject A in our blind test. We’ll let them sort out their arguments in the court of public opinion and the inevitable courts of law and hope that some semblance of our old-fashioned Republicanism survives this awful mess.

— Bud Norman

The Fall-out from Flynn’s Flip

The guy who was filling in for Sean Hannity on the radio Friday assured his audience that former national security advisor Mike Flynn’s guilty plea to a charge of lying the Federal Bureau of Investigation just goes to show how very weak is special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” and Harvard law school professor Alan Dershowitz was saying the same thing. Pretty much everyone else thought it spelled big trouble for President Donald Trump, though, and despite our aversion to the conventional wisdom we’re inclined to agree.
The Sean Hannity show’s full time job these days is finding that elusive silver lining in whatever dark cloud hovers over the Trump administration, Dershowitz is by now more an instinctive contrarian than a serious scholar, and at this point the conventional wisdom is far more compelling. At the very least, Trump’s apologists have to admit that the man he chose as his most trusted foreign policy advisor has now confessed to lying to the FBI, and after all his other picks that have also been defenestrated and subsequently indicted it is increasingly hard to believe is campaign boasts that he only hires the very best people. There’s also ample reason to believe that Flynn is about to dish some serious dirt about that “Russia thing.”
Flynn’s frequently revised security clearance forms and belated admissions of well-compensated dealings on behalf of Turkey and Russia while working for the Trump campaign and then the administration, along with his recent admission of lying about it to the FBI, surely could have resulted in more serious charges, not to mention some scary and all-too-credible counts against his idiot son, who was kicked off the Trump transition team for some “tweets” about the far-fetched “Pizza-gate” conspiracy theory that Democratic presidential nominee was running a satanic child sex-abuse ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria. To the Hannity guest host and the Harvard professor the fact that the Flynns are getting off light is proof that Mueller hasn’t got anything better, but the counter-argument that they wouldn’t have got such a sweet deal from such a shrewd dealer as Mueller without offering some useful testimony on the higher-ups is far more convincing.
A three-star Army general and one-time director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the administration of President Barack Obama, Flynn was Trump’s top foreign policy advisor during the campaign, held the same role during the transition, and was chosen as Trump’s national security advisor after the inauguration, so there aren’t a lot of higher-ups he implicate in exchange for such a seemingly sweet deal. The very short list would include Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was somehow the most senior and trusted of all those best people Trump promised to hire, and Vice President Mike Pence, who can rightly claim that he insisted on Flynn’s resignation after Flynn had lied to him, and of course Trump himself.
By now Trump’s team is describing Flynn as a former Obama appointee, which is undeniably true, but there’s also no denying that Obama later fired the guy, and personally warned Trump not to re-hire him in any capacity, and that shortly before she was fired by Trump a holdover Obama appointee in the Justice Department warned the White House that Flynn was under investigation and susceptible to Russian blackmail, and that Trump stayed loyal to his man fore more than two weeks after that until the free press made it impossible. Trump stayed somewhat loyal to Flynn even after that, and according to the sworn testimony of fired FBI director James Comey the president even urged that the FBI give his beloved general a pass, and it wasn’t until Flynn had clearly started to cooperate with the special counsel that the Trump team started damning him as an Obama appointee. Whatever dirt Mueller might dish on Trump or his son-in-law or vice president, Trump will have have to walk back a lot of previous praise for his most trusted foreign policy advisor.
Harvard’s Dershowitz makes a plausible argument that by confessing lies to the FBI he casts any evidence he gives from now on as suspect, and when Hannity gets back on the air he’ll no doubt take up the same argument, but we and by now pretty much everyone else will be more inclined to believe whatever testimony he gives to avoid all the more serious charges against him and his idiot son. The guy Trump chose as his national security adviser once worked for the Russian propaganda network Russia Today, led a standing ovation for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin at a Moscow dinner where he gave a speech, and explained to a congressional committee that he’d been paid by his speaker’s bureau rather than the Russian government, claiming not to know if the speaker’s bureau had been recompensed by the Russian government, but he was once a three-star Army general and a high-ranking Obama appointee, so there’s no telling how his testimony will play. Trump has consistently been as complimentary as Flynn to Putin’s dictatorship, with the same affinity to the increasingly totalitarian Islamic government in Turkey that Flynn worked for during for his tenure as national security advisor, and no matter how anti-climatic Flynn’s testimony might prove it doesn’t look good.
Meanwhile, the guy Trump once chose as campaign manager and his business partner are expensively contesting the special counsel’s charges regarding their own Russian business ties, Trump’s trusted senior advisor son-in-law has legal and financial and potentially Russian-related problems that are reportedly complicated by Flynn’s testimony in exchange for that sweetheart deal, and Trump’s own idiot namesake son is also reportedly in the special counsel’s crosshairs. Trump’s team is insisting this “Russia thing” will be finished year’s end with a complete exoneration, but at this point we doubt it.

— Bud Norman